“Classic” is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the book world. There are the obvious classics of Homer, Shakespeare, Chaucer, etc. The ones written ages ago that most people have read and everyone has at least heard about. Then there are the ones that are dubbed so because they were, simply, really good. Both stand the test of time. I do not feel that The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was either one of these classics, despite its classification as such on Amazon.
A little summary: Sixteen year old Holden Caulfield has been kicked out of Pencey Prep, just the latest school to give him the boot. He isn’t supposed to go home to New York City for a few more days, but he decides to leave school early after getting into a fight with his roommate. He is tired of all the “phonies” and wants to have a good time in the city before seeing his disappointed parents. What ensues is his telling of his time spent wandering the streets of 1949 NYC: dancing at the hotel bar, a run-in with a pimp, a date with his old girlfriend, getting drunk before sneaking into his house to visit his sister, staying at a potential pervert’s house, and roaming the streets some more.
Clearly this guy has quite a couple days. He is often depressed, sometimes to the point of contemplating suicide. What little interaction he has with other people, he puts his social ineptness on display by rambling or saying the oddest things. He is awkward and lonely.
The premise is interesting. My problem is the way that it is given. The story is told by Holden, so I understand the reasoning behind the writing style. It is as if he is having a normal conversation with us now (the end of the book). He must have a good memory to recall word for word conversations, but his details of actual events are very lacking. The descriptions of his feelings seem to fall short, even given the limited understanding of what he is really dealing with. I do not care much for books that are written in stream-of-consciousness/run-on sentences, which is the case here. His awkwardness may lead to him to talk and think this way, but I find it a horrible way to tell a story.
I know what it is supposed to be: a novel for angsty teens who are dealing with identity and alienation issues. I realize I no longer fit into that category, so maybe I am judging it on the wrong criteria. However, I can’t picture myself ten years ago relating to this book. Life is completely different from the 40’s. Maybe I am wrong, and this book speaks to some people around Holden’s age, but I just don’t see it. I’ll give you my strongest feeling as to why.
It deals with the ending of the book, so skip a paragraph if you don’t know it or want to read it yourself. There are many and differing reasons why people are assigned to read this in high school. There is the idea that it shows how the teenage issues you go through and the feelings you have are just a phase. Or to show that you are not alone in thinking life sucks. However, the book ends with Holden in a mental hospital (to my best understanding). How is this at all uplifting? To me, I would see the opposite and continue to bottle up all of those strange and confusing feelings I had.
In my opinion, I go with the idea that a “classic” is a novel that stands the test of time. Not only that, but it’s GOOD. Sorry for those who might disagree, but this book does not qualify. I will be generous and give it a 4 out of 10. Why? Because is has become one of those books that is talked about, so it is worth reading simply for the knowledge. You may need to know some details if you ever get on Jeopardy. Otherwise, pass this one up for a book that is actually a classic or a more recent “teen-angst” novel.
What is your definition of a “classic” book?